Just over two years after using the third overall pick to draft him, the Sixers have elected not to exercise Jahlil Okafor‘s team option for 2018/19, a team source tells Kyle Neubeck of PhillyVoice. Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer (Twitter link) confirms that the 76ers will turn down Okafor’s fourth-year option.
Okafor, one of the most highly-regarded prospects of the 2015 draft class, enjoyed a solid rookie season with the Sixers back in 2015/16, averaging 17.5 PPG and 7.0 RPG in 53 games (48 starts). However, he saw his role with the club begin to decrease last season.
Even after Philadelphia traded Nerlens Noel to the Mavericks in February, the center position remained crowded, with Joel Embiid looking like a franchise player when he was healthy and Richaun Holmes emerging as a viable backup. This season, Amir Johnson and even Dario Saric have earned minutes at center, leaving no room in the rotation for Okafor.
As Neubeck details in his report, multiple members of the Sixers have “insisted privately” that creating cap flexibility for 2018 is a top priority for the club. Embiid’s new extension will kick in, and Robert Covington is expected to receive a significant raise as well, so declining Okafor’s option, which would have been worth about $6.3MM, will help the 76ers retain cap room for potential free agent targets.
While it’s possible Okafor will play out the year with the Sixers before becoming an unrestricted free agent in 2018, the club has been working with the big man’s camp in an effort to find a viable trade. Today’s move may complicate those efforts.
With his option for 2018/19 not exercised, Okafor will be on an expiring contract, which figures to have an impact on what potential suitors are willing to offer for him. Unlike Noel, who was also traded in the final year of his contract, Okafor won’t be eligible for restricted free agency. Whichever team has him on its roster at the end of the season also won’t be able to offer Okafor a higher salary than $6.3MM, the value of his declined option.
Okafor’s rookie scale option was one of five that the Sixers had to decide on by today. Philadelphia exercised its 2018/19 options on Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, Justin Anderson, and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot.
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